BERSERK IN THE BRONX: More than 7,500 Halloween revelers attend “Garden of Madness” at New York Expo Center. (Courtesy Dean Entertainment Group)
Promoter Eddie Dean’s New York Expo Center now a concert destination
The Bronx has one of the deepest, most diverse music histories of New York. Its status as a piano manufacturing hub earned it the title of the “Piano Capital of the United States” in the early 20th century, Afro-Caribbean music dominated midcentury and, famously, the borough is hailed as the birthplace of hip-hop.
Its cultural cachet has flagged in recent decades, but veteran promoter Eddie Dean is working to resurrect it.
“It’s no different than 15 years ago with Brooklyn,” said Dean, who compared the once “snickered at” borough’s rise to where he thinks the Bronx is headed. “The South Bronx has been gentrifying for some time now; this isn’t really new. But often (in) emerging areas, the transition is led by art, music, culture. It only makes sense that, musically, we’ve been able to bring these shows of such magnitude up there.”
Dean, who founded Dean Entertainment Group (formerly RPM Presents), has been at the forefront of New York nightlife for years, as owner of Brooklyn club Schimanski and closed Manhattan mecca Pacha, and as a promoter who has staged massive events and festivals.
Among Dean’s frequent venues were Manhattan’s Pier 36 and Pier 94, where he’d often stage events for “Big Week,” the period between Christmas and New Year’s when he likes to pull out all the stops. When the piers announced they’d no longer host concerts, Dean went in search of a new venue.
He predominantly scouted in Brooklyn and Queens, and when he got a tip about a space in the Bronx’s Hunts Point neighborhood he was, like many New Yorkers, skeptical.
“I went, I saw the site, and I really fell in love with the venue and its aesthetic,” he said. “It’s got great bones, as they say.”
With New York Expo Center, Dean has found a new home “for the big dogs.” In early November, his “Garden of Madness” event, presented in conjunction with Tomorrowland, drew more than 7,500 fans to the space, which features a 90,000-square-foot interior, including a 60,000-square-foot main event space. For Big Week, DEG has three sold-out Eric Prydz shows and an Above & Beyond New Year’s concert on the books.
Dean has embraced the challenge of outfitting New York Expo Center’s raw warehouse space for his one-off shows, using the team he built staging one-night blowouts and the operational skills he learned from years of hosting up to 4,000 patrons a night at Pacha.
“It’s just a very expensive endeavor, and there’s very, very, very little room for error,” he said. “You can’t take any shortcuts. You have to build a formidable venue with proper production. You really have to have everything working for you. You have to have a really good, strong act that you’re confident can sell the tickets.”
But the upside’s worth it. In October 2017, Dean staged his first show at the venue, securing Travis Scott to headline a Halloween gig, just before the rapper ascended to arenas. (“Best night of my life,” Scott wrote on Instagram afterward.) Two months later, Dean brought in Zeds Dead and Jauz; after taking last year off at the venue, he returned with the “Garden of Madness,” which also featured an elaborate 10,000-square-foot haunted house by Blood Manor.
“The venue’s just great,” Dean said. “There’s great production ability there. It allows for you to do a custom production. Everyone’s wants and needs are different.”
At New York Expo Center, Dean has sought to mix up programming in a way that’ll draw a range of patrons and spread the word about both the venue and the borough it’s in. Even his electronic programming has spanned subgenres such as electronic dance music and bass. (Non-DEG events, like Ozuna and the A$AP Mob’s Yams Day, have also been held there, and electronic promoter Teksupport will hosted an installment of German electronic fest Time Warp Nov. 22-23.)
“I’d like to double the amount of shows that we did this year,” he said. “Our vision is to diversify programming. I’m not going to pigeonhole myself by doing any one particular thing. I’m just all about doing great events.”